The Zooniverse, the people behind GalaxyZoo has released its latest project, MoonZoo. They’re asking the public to help them map craters on the surface of the Moon using new images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. The interface is simple and nifty as they show below.
I liked the idea of GalaxyZoo. It’s produced several papers already so it’s clearly a productive tool as well as a great way for the public to get involved. The reality was slightly different for me as I was never sure I was doing it right. That shouldn’t be a problem, the signal comes from many people checking the same photos rather than just one person. Still, when I saw an example photo of a spiral galaxy, and I couldn’t see the spiral, I decided I was probably contributing more noise than signal. What I like about MoonZoo is the guide at the bottom showing what the lighting does to the image. I can see images where I’ve no idea if the things I’m looking at are craters or hills. The guide at the bottom resolves that problem and then targetting craters becomes simple. My results won’t be perfect, I’ve not got an eye for boulders, but I can see how even by positioning crater markers I can help contribute to the accuracy of the project.
It’s not something I’d want to do for hours on end, but as a way to clear the mind in a few minutes or wind down at the end of the day it’s fun and it helps someone else.
I went to Skeptics in the Pub last week at Nottingham to hear a talk by Doug Ellison on the exploration of Mars. One of the subjects that came up was the Gorilla. The Sun recently reported that a Mars rover had found evidence of a Silverback gorilla while rambling across the dusty and arid plains of Mars. ‘Enthusiast Nigel Cooper — who has studied thousands of photos taken by Nasa rovers and posted online — said: “It’s definitely a creature of some sort.“‘
I’m rubbish at debunking this kind of thing. Basically I get as far as a lack of bananas and rain forest before yawning. If someone seriously thinks that the governments of the world are conspiring to hide the existence of a lone, and presumably very hungry, gorilla then they have more urgent problems than a lack of basic biology or geology. What is it that makes a global conspiracy to hide evidence of an advanced civilisation on Mars, with pyramids, faces and anomalous gorillas plausible? Unambiguous evidence of life on Mars would be a key to the vaults of any government with a space programme, so why would scientists hide that? You’re not going to answer that question by confirming that what we have is a rock. Still, that’s what Doug Ellison did with the video below. What makes it worth watching isn’t the conclusion but how he got there.
The tool he used in the video is the Midnight Mars Browser, which you can download on Windows or Mac for free. I didn’t know about this. It’s a tool that takes the photos from Spirit and Opportunity and displays them as virtual panoramas. You can follow in the tracks of your favourite rover. The gorilla might be dull, it’s a rock, but the tool for examining it looks brilliant. This is why the talk was so compelling. There’s masses of information about Mars you can access. You can even follow the (delayed) blog of a Mars rover driver at Mars and Me if you want the backseat driver experience.
It’s an example of debunking done well. I doubt that he’ll have converted any die-hards, because simply examining the evidence isn’t going to address their underlying problems. For everyone else he’s not only shown that it’s a not a gorilla, he’s also shown the way to more interesting places that can take our understanding of Mars further. The rest of the talk showed similar insights into the equipment on Mars and how you can use the data coming from there. As for the rest of the solar system, he runs a forum where you can find out more at unmannedspaceflight.com.
I missed this, the ESA put out the video on their YouTube channel before Christmas, but if I keep quiet about that maybe no one will notice. Ariane is now 30 years old.
The first Ariane launched from Kourou in French Guiana on Christmas Eve 1979. The Kourou site sounds like a convenient a tropical jungle remote from ESA headquarters. However, as Alice Gorman has found, not everyone finds it exotically distant.
Ariane could also be considered an American success story too. The reason the French and Germans needed to build it was that Richard Nixon prevented the commercial use of European satellites launched on US Delta rockets. That forced Europe into building its own independent rocket which now it one of the most commercially successful launchers. You can read more about Ariane on Jonathan Amos’s blog Spaceman, which I’ve just discovered, or more about Kourou on Alice Gorman’s blog Space Age Archaeology.
The British investment in ESA
’s astronaut programme. Photo (cc) Stuart Pilbrow
Becoming an astronaut is the pinnacle of achievement for anyone involved in space science and technology.
So, after the selection of Major Time Peake as the UK’s new ESA astronaut, how serious are the government of reaching the pinnacle of acheivement? “No additional funds would be made available to help pay for the costs of Major Peake’s training, Science Minister Lord Drayson said.” While the UK’s Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills is happy to associate themselves with Tim Peake’s success and say they’re investing in our future, the British investment in astronautics will currently remain €0.
Excavation of a Monolith at Tycho
Another advantage of being in Leicester is that you don’t know who is going to drop in. On Friday it was John Campbell from JCU Cairns. He’s been working with Alice Gorman on the Space Heritage problem since WAC 5. Perhaps the biggest problem is getting people to recognise there’s a space heritage problem.
He’s a nice guy, if a little intimidating as he seems at home talking about any subject. Conversation skipped from extremophiles to the last glaciation and hunter / gatherer strategies. Along the way we talked about Mir.
Imagine we could find the spot where Columbus first stepped onto Hispaniola, or where the Vikings first landed in the new world. Now imagine it was decided to destroy. Say, the beach was to be scooped out and made into a harbour for yuppies. Would this be a problem? Mir, John says, is a similar place. It was the first successful long-term space station. It wasn’t just used by the USSR, it also hosted Americans and peoples from other nations. It was the place where serious international coöperation in space began. And it doesn’t exist anymore because it was crashed into the Pacific, somewhere between New Zealand and South America. A historic place has been destroyed more effectively than the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan.
The Russians did recognise the importance of the station and did appeal for help to boost it to a higher orbit to preserve the site, but no-one else was interested. Without the funds from a safety point of view crash-landing was the only feasible option.
John also pointed out that Tranquility Base meets more or less every criterion of being a world heritage site, except for being on this world. His opinion is that the footprints there are equal in importance to the footprints at Laetoli.
It’s interesting that in this case the future has arrived. 2001 might not have bought robots in every home, or cheap spaceflight to moon bases. However, extra-terrestrial archaeology is an issue.
I’ve been sent this article written by Alice Gorman in February’s edition of the Journal of Social Archaeology after finding it mentioned on Raw Harvest. As will become apparent below, I know very little about Australia despite working with some Australian archaeologists. I remember while digging in Luxembourg Matthew, an Australian archaeologist on holiday, was explaining the rolling heritage act which protected anything older than fifty years in Australia. This caused amusement when we worked out that in a few years archaeologists would be attempting to reconstruct early Elvis records, possibly even experimenting with white jump suits as they dug. We couldn’t see the point of excavating a building when you could walk down to the council offices and pick up the plans. Space Archaeology should be an even bigger goldmine of knee-jerk put-downs. Why bother studying the Saturn V rockets when you can just go down to Cape Canaveral and pick up the plans?
Since then my attitudes to the differences between history and archaeology have changed. Archaeology isn’t just about writing history without using texts. Archaeologists often ask different questions of the past to Historians. Dr Gorman’s paper is an excellent example of the value of contemporary archaeology.